Miscellany and detritus, from the writer of Is This Mutton?com

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Monday, March 31, 2008

Britiush Airways: get your act together - NOW

Three words to British Airways. Sort. It. Out.
I refer to the debacle at Terminal 5, Heathrow Airport, which should have been a triumph. Completed ahead of schedule, on budget, and catapulting Europe's busiest airport into the ranks of "decent airports" rather than Third World.
But no, the world stood by and laughed as every day since its opening has degenerated into chaos. And the sad thing is, none of it is new. I wrote about wretched BA several months ago when they had another baggage handling scandal. I suspect the issues are the same. They still do not have enough baggage handlers, all in an attempt to save money.
Strange to note that 400 BA staff "volunteered" to come in to sort the back log. Volunteered?! BA should have called in dozens of extra staff and paid them overtime, the moment the issue arose, to sort the back log!
But it's typical of this arrogant, lazy company - whose management is described as old school braying hooray henry idiots - that they have put their heads in the sand and tried to blame everyone else.
BAA, and Heathrow management, have finally said that their baggage management system is working 100%. So it is firmly BA's fault that over 50 flights have again been cancelled today.
Words fail me. Surely the buffoons could have done the simple maths around number of flights, passengers and bags?
When the route to Rhodes, Greece, for our summer holiday was transferred to Easyjet from BA a few weeks ago I was actually pleased. At least with Easyjet most of the flights run on time and you don't need to worry about your baggage being on a different flight (or being sat at Gatwick for weeks).
Mind you, BAA and Heathrow need to take some responsibility for only one escalator or lift working yesterday out of 18. Duh?
This sort of incompetence makes me so mad because it shows the rest of the world that we can't get our act together. This would never have happened in France or Germany.
Someone at BA should be sacked NOW!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Apprentice: new series looks promising

The new series of The Apprentice kicked off last night and promises to be another good 'un.

The reason it's so compelling is that we're introduced to a bunch of highly unlikeable arrogant and opinionated young people who think that, armed with their MBAs and their two or three years in sales, they're "the best salesperson in Europe" or whatever. Yet they fall apart, completing lacking any common sense, with the simple tasks they're asked to perform.

And, more tellingly, it degenerates into playground factions and name calling, as it appears some of them lack the basic communications skills needed in business.

In last night's episode, Nicholas the barrister (and why would a newly qualified barrister want to work for Sir Alan's box shifting outfit?!) looked down on everybody else in the boardroom and sneered that the others were uneducated salespeople who talked about football, whereas he was into culture. The naivety of the man. As if those are qualities that will appear to Sir Alan (no degree, salesperson, ardent football fan).

Meanwhile Alex, the boys' leader for this task, had obviously learned from previous episodes as he kept reeling off the failures of Nicholas, during the task, to make sure the camera team were aware who was to blame.

The boys team, for the second year running, immediately emerged as very weak and childish, going into an argument in the boardroom about how there were already two factions with one saying "I thought you were my friend," as if they were five year olds, not the finest entrepreneurs of today who met a few hours previously.

It seems that men can't cross the social divide. Every year there are essentially two types of people: a) braying public school educated hooray Henrys, and b) "innit" ordinary boys educated at former polytechnics (but it's a degree isn't it?) who talk about women's chests and football. Women are more able to deal with this, although it seems there are fewer "toffs" on the women's team anyway.

You don't even need Sir Alan and his side-kicks when you have these posturing young buffoons digging their own graves, but the way he assassinates their failings, in such a succinct way, is always a treat to watch.

Roll on the next few episodes!!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The BBC Effect

We have been enjoying "An Island Parish" on BBC2, a gentle little programme about life on the Isles of Scilly.

Following the episode about the launch of the island's radio station, I was amused to tune into Radio Scilly via the web to find that the live stream is constantly busy because of demand caused by the programme.

It made me muse on "the BBC Effect" and the change it has brought about on the islands. I can't honestly believe that so many changes and life transformations would have happened had it not been for the presence of Nigel Farrell and his film crew. Would the school have got the necessary millions for a rebuild, after countless refusals? Would the Seven Stones pub, and the new artists' workshops, been renovated and reopened so quickly?

Nonetheless it was a great insight into island life and a glimpse into a life that is all but forgotten "on the mainland". Everyone knows each other, entertainment is the pub or amateur dramatics, and in winter the islands are remote as the storms rage and the helicopter flights are cancelled.

It was also apparent that the unity that binds all the islands can also ruthlessly exclude those who don't fit in.

Father Guy, left, the new Anglican priest, was unfortunately a case in point. Ostensibly the whole series was pinned on him and how he left Mullion because he had a calling to go to the Scillies. But somehow he hasn't gelled with the community and recent programmes have hardly focused on him at all. His sermons and whole manner of delivery seems laboured and awkward; he seems quite a shy and introverted person and doesn't go to the pub or take part in the pantomime in the manner of the Methodist minister, Rev David, who in recent programmes has become more prominent.

We thought that Guy might actually leave the islands in the last series but he appears to be gritting his teeth for another year. Time will tell.....

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Post Easter flotsam and miscellaneous ramblings

An unusual development today: daylight as I left London for Swindon at 5.55am. Last time I went to Swindon, two weeks ago, it was still dark. And we haven't even done the daylight savings nonsense yet. (I still haven't changed the clock in my car from last time).

Today's miscellaneous thoughts:
1) No sightings of Baileys equine horse feeds ("horse nutritionn in the bag"), Wilkinson's or Norbert Dentressangle. In fact, I said to Anonymous this morning that I'm beginning to think they're avoiding me.
2) What shall I do about the back garden? How easy is it to find a gardener who can remove trees and shrubs? What happens if the one who tuns up is too old? I wonder how dahlias would fare. I used to think they were very vulgar but they seem to be back in fashion and I'm quite attracted by the idea. Maybe some fuschias too. I do love those. The Widow Twankey would look wonderful next to the Bishop of Canterbury (pictured).
3) What to do about the decorating? Since we had new radiators installed, the wallpaper is looking very torn and shabby in places. I am desperate to have the stairs, hallway, landing and main bedroom redecorated. J shows very little enthusiasm and has still not done the necessary measuring. Shall I ring Colin from down the road who did the exterior last year (but fell out with J in the process?).
4) The Jackie hits of the 70s album (which I was playing). Really very good: quite a few tracks you had completely forgotten, and I could do without "Billy don't be a hero," but at least they are all bona fide hits. Usually you buy a compilation, you get a few songs that defy the trades descriptions act.
5) Are there two bank holidays in August? I'm sure there were last year but J insists there are not.
6) Am I getting excited about the new series of The Apprentice? Possibly, although I have a few sore misgivings too. The formula is becoming quite tired. Why bother with all the MBAs and marketing experts in the first place, when Sir Alan only wants a tactical sales person / box shifter?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The new voting strategy for Eurovision

Two UK winners - Bucks Fizz and Brotherhood of Man
Those of you who are regular readers will know I am a bit of a fan of Eurovision. It's such a kitsch festival of irony, how could you not be? Well, this week I went to Frankfurt for a team meeting. We're probably unique as a team in that we're based in several countries, so we only get to see each other face-to-face once a quarter. With so many countries in one team - UK, Germany,France, Belgium, Poland, Spain, Georgia, Croatia and Italy, Eurovision is always a good bonding topic over dinner. And the rise of the PDA has led to a whole new game that wouldn't have been possible a few years ago. "Who won in 1993?" we asked. Well, Taj (on the iPhone) and Kurt (on the unspecified PDA) instantly went to check, and it was Ireland. (The iPhone won by the way). You can add a little frisson to this by having a wager on the winner before finding out the answer.
The other outcome from the dinner was that we agreed a strategy for trying to give a better chance to the songs of western Europe. The Georgian voter didn't go along with this, of course. What we will do is: Belgium will vote for UK and vice versa. Belgium have a fun song this year (Kurt even had a CD with all the Belgian entries for this year - and they had a better selection than poor old UK). Spread the same game among your friends, folks! Don't let the Baltic bloc vote trample on our great Eurovision tradition. Don't forget those iconic songs like Ding-a-Dong (Netherlands), Boom Bang A Bang (UK) and Hard Rock Hallejuhah (Finland).

Finally, here's a fun website my brother found which lets you look at the record/CD covers for all the entrants, in all the countries. Look at those groovy hairstyles.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

It's Thick and Yellow

I have spent the last 10 years on a gastronomic quest. No, this is not my tireless campaign to visit the best restaurants in London, although that's ongoing. My quest has been to find the perfect blend of the thick yellow stuff. Piccalilli. 

You may think piccalilli is downmarket. I began to suspect the same after Nana Royle asked for a cheese and piccalilli sandwich in the Royle Family. But I can't help it. I'm like Nigella with her pickles obsession. I adore piccalilli, and particularly in a cheese sandwich. 

The problem is, Epicure, my favourite purveyors of the pickle,  stopped making piccalilli about 10 years ago or longer, I've been trying to find one that ticks all the boxes and I've failed miserably. 

It's not through want of trying. I've tried all the mainstream ones from supermarkets: own brands, including M&S (one of the worst), Garners, Haywards, Heinz (yuk!), Bartons. I've also experimented with specialist pickles bought at farmer's markets and delis. Until now, my piccalilli of choice was from Fortnum & Mason, but it was nowhere near the towering achievement that was Epicure's historic brand.

Now though, I have a new number one. In Tavistock recently I went into Creber's, one of those delightful old-fashioned deli / grocer's that sells everything by Epicure (except, ironically, the piccalilli).  Anyway, I scoured the pickle shelves and decided to try a jar of piccalilli which was marked "gold medal winner." It is a piccalilli to die for: not too dayglo a yellow, not too acid or bitter, and not too sweet. It has the perfect balance of silverskin onions and cauliflower. It hasn't got preservatives or anything nasty (once open, you have to keep it in the fridge). And the best news is, you can buy it online direct from the makers in Wiltshire. The company is called Tracklements and Delia mentions their chilli jam in her new book. They also have many other products including chutneys, pickles, ketchups, jellies and, oh bliss, hampers!

Update:  news just in - November 2020:

Epicure Piccalilli is back.  I've been contacted by the new owners, who have quite an extensive range at their website. I'll be giving my verdict on my current blog, Is This Mutton, on Nov 13 2020.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Happy Days

Drove to Swindon today (2 hours 15, M25 was a stinker between junctions 19 and 17) and mulled over large quantities of good news:
- Banana Republic opening first store in Europe in Regent Street on March 20th;
- lovely pink skies this morning over London (which in ye olde lore, means "shepherd's warning," but let's not concern ourselves too much with shepherds);
- Prince Albert of Monaco to get married in September. Fabulous! A Monagasque wedding. I can't wait to see Caroline (no doubt wearing Chanel) and Stephanie sitting as far apart as they can manage, plus whether or not Caroline's daughter will upstage them both.
And I hope we send the A team this time, Charles & Camilla. When Prince Rainier snuffed it, we only sent Prince Edward. It will be a visual feast! Of course Prince Albert, who is 50 tomorrow, can procrastinate no longer. Unless he produces an heir, an official heir, he will lose the crown under their rules & regs. That can't be a very appealing prospect for his South African girlfriend, knowing that he is marrying her under duress, but as an ex-swimmer her shoulders are certainly broad enough to shrug it off;
- my colleague Matthew is back from the US and has two magazines for me including the one I absolutely love, Somerset Memories.
Not all good news today. Didn't have a single sighting of Bailey's Horse Feeds, Wilkinson or Norbert Dentressangle lorries. I wonder what all the nags are going to do without their nose bags. As Norbert would say, "quelle horreur."

And I haven't bothered myself with Mr Darling's budget because let's face it, it's never going to be good news is it? I am a bit cross about the price of beer going up, not because I'm a beer drinker but because it may put pubs and breweries out of business. The price of hops is already escalating this year. I quite like the Conservatives' idea of putting a heavy tax on alcopops and strong cheap lagers, those bought mainly from supermarkets by kids. Bur I'm not sure they could enforce it.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Sadness over Concorde

Buried away in the news today was the story that a French prosecutor is calling for Continental Airlines to go on trial over allegations that a piece of debris on the runway from a Continental plane caused the Concorde accident in Paris that resulted in 113 deaths.

The accident, back in 2000, resulted in all the Concordes being grounded for safety tests, And shortly afterwards, the British Airways Concordes were unexpectedly retired in 2003.

It was always one of my biggest regrets that I never flew on Concorde. It was such an amazing -and moving - sight in the sky, even if it was apparently quite cramped on board. I'll never forget the sight of Concorde leading the Red Arrows in the fly past for the Queen's golden jubilee in 2002.

It seems so sad to me that Britain, France and other European countries collaborated on this wonderful aviation breakthrough (and showed what can be achieved in Europe when we all work together), the era of supersonic air travel was born, but then it dies and there is nothing to replace it. Those lummocky great planes that hold hundreds of people hold little appeal for me. They just mean more room for the people who turn left, and more shoehorning-in of the unfortunates who turn right.

It's a tragic epitaph to Concorde that its demise was effectively caused by a piece of debris from another aircraft. Nothing to do with the safety of the plane, which was widely discussed at the time and has probably left his reputation tarnished.

Maybe oneday I will get to see Concorde - albeit grounded - at the special museum hangar created in Manchester.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Thank heavens for Delia

It's five years since Delia Smith had a TV show or new cookery book out. Now she's back with her "How to Cheat at Cooking" and apparently the chattering classes are in a furore. Not only has she included tips on using pre-made items like M&S casserole mixes (the horror!) but on Radio 4 she said she wasn't part of the organic lobby and believed that cheap chicken provides a good source of protein for poor families.

Hear hear!

It's all very well for Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to get tearful over chickens, and I do agree that the chattering classes (myself included) should spend more on free-range organic birds. But only if you can afford it. The problem with free-range organic birds is that they are tiny. I often spend around £10 at Sainsburys on a bird which scarcely feeds three for lunch, let alone provide anything for meals afterwards. So I'm not surprised that people still buy the battery chickens. OK, they're fattened up with water and we know what terrible lives they lead, but people on very low incomes still need to eat.

It's a misnomer that it costs a lot to eat well. If you ate a lot of pulses and vegetables you could eat fairly cheaply and nutritiously. But most people haven't got a clue, and the TV chefs are partly to blame. When did a TV chef consciously give us cheap, nourishing and healthy meals to make? They're either exhorting us to cook above our skill level (tuille baskets / spun sugar / reductions) or they're using upmarket ingredients like venison, wild boar and so on. Fine for the chattering classes and their bijoux dinner parties, but not so good for Kerry Katona and her gang who stuff themselves with pre-packaged E numbers from Iceland.

At least Delia Smith is recognising this and encouraging busy people to cook from scratch while cutting a few corners. Hurrah for her. I wish her recipes were a little healthier, but maybe that's step two.

Nigella of course had her "Express" book and show which sold much the same premise, but Nigella's short cuts are all about buying niceties from the Italian deli. A lot of her shortcuts can be bought at the gourmet aisle in Sainsburys and some can't (Italian deli). Delia's short cuts seem to be mainly from Marks & Spencer but at least the store is accessible (if maybe over priced for many).

Friday, March 07, 2008

The Way We Were

It's been a long time since I used a VCR. J is such a technology evangelist that my trusty Panasonic machine was despatched to Plymouth some time ago to spend the rest of its useful life with Gizzard (my mum). However, when I was there at the weekend I found it was still under a cloth so I brought it back and duly fired it into life yesterday.

I had two old videos I was dying to see. My family were not from the "Super 8" generation so we didn't have an old cine camera that came out at the drop of the hat. It wasn't until 1990 that I first became acquainted with a camcorder, a huge great thing that sat on your shoulder. The first video, from December 1990, shows a family get together at Giz's house.

It was quite poignant because of the seven people and one cat in the frames, only three remain in the family (and no cat). Dear old Grandma was there; she died the following summer. Mark, my ex-husband, is the cameraman (we split up the following year), and Susan, my younger brother's ex-wife, is also there, as is my dad Stamps, who died four years ago. Mitzi the cat died a long time ago.

Anyway, the action starts with Giz making a pizza; we are then seen eating the pizza and sitting around in armchairs looking like the Royle Family. Robert and Susan arrive, and we play Trivial Pursuit. It's quite amusing - Grandma is in good form, recounting how she was an extra in a film, and Giz admonishes her for taking another glass of Bailey's - "you'll only get bad."

Giz won't watch the film because she says she would find it too sad, but I found it very uplifting. (I was quite pleased too because in 1990 I had horribly short hair and was a bit podgy, so I was chuffed to think I look better now than I did then!).

The other video was from 1993 when I was in my resignation period at a PR agency in London (how I hated it there!) and took part in a day's presentation skills training with a company called Perfect Pitch. I remember this very well. The tutor, a Scottish lady called Caroline Sami, wanted us to "perform" our own presentation of about five minutes and she lined us up in a particular order. She wanted the quiet timid ones at the start, building up to a crescendo of the better presenters.

Well, she put me second, which made me smile inwardly because I love it when people underestimate me. So when I gave my performance, which was an amusing appeal on why Plymouth should be the next venue for the Olympic Games, I really hammed it up and got a lot of laughter and applause. Ms Sami looked as if she was sucking a lemon and said "Now you've messed up the running order. The next person has too hard an act to follow." I smirked inwardly again and thought that next time maybe she wouldn't be so quick to underestimate people.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Amazon rules OK

I was gratified to discover that since installing the "My Favourites" widget from Amazon I have helped them shift five products! And earned myself £1.17.

Well, I won't be giving up the day job just yet, but this is a whole £1.17 better than I ever earned from Google Ad Sense, so given that I've now refreshed My Favourites and will keep it updated, I might reach a Bobby Moore by the end of the year.

I have to say that when Amazon started branching out a few years ago and selling things other than books, plus secondhand books, I had SMs. (Sore misgivings, as quoth by Mrs Fussey in Carry On Camping). But no, they can't be knocked, and I've even become a Marketplace seller myself. I stopped selling on Ebay because it's such a faff, having to take pictures of your merchandise. Even the payment system is inferior. With Amazon, they just pop the money into my account where it's helping to subsidise my outrageous spends on stash (cardmaking and scrapbooking supplies).

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Reverse Flotsam

More flotsam, today on a different journey: Plymouth to Swindon, having stayed with the old girl this weekend and taken Monday off. (For those of you who like traffic data: it took 2 hrs 45, no major incidents to report).

I didn't see any Baileys Horse Feeds lorries or indeed Wilkinson lorries, which I will now look out for. I like to spy Norbert Dentressangle too because I think it's just a superb name, like Perkins Lascelles in Plymouth. I thought that this opticians' business was run by a Mr Perkins Lascelles but it turns out to be two gentlemen. I collect great names: I am liking Benedict Cumberbatch too.

Anyway - to the matter in hand - Eurovision. I could not believe it when the foolish, feckless public voted for Wogan's wild card. I have sore misgivings, that's all I can say.

I can't even remember what he's called, but it's some bloke who was in The X Factor and he looks like someone's dad. I was convinced Michelle Gayle would win with her fine rendition of something that looked like The Goodies' Funky Chicken and had lyrics along the lines of "you make me oooh." Perfect Eurovision fodder. Now we've got someone's dad singing a proper song with a decent voice, and we have NO CHANCE WHATSOEVER, unless Eastern Europe decides that it's fed up with novelty numbers, singing turkies and so on, and wants a sensible ballad sung by someone's dad.

The spectre of "Nil Points" beckons.

While I'm here, I thought I would mention our superb Mother's Day lunch at the Corbyn Head Hotel in Torquay. It was top notch: perfect succulent rare beef for me (well done for the old girl), preceded by chicken liver pate and followed by a substantial bread and butter pudding. And Giz got a bunch of flowers on top of a free glass of sparkling white, so she was In Clover.
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